Fifty years ago, President Johnson signed the Housing and Urban Development Act into law.

Fifty years ago, President Johnson signed the Housing and Urban Development Act into law. Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library

Happy 50th Birthday, HUD!

On Sept. 9, 1965, President Johnson signed into law the bill that created the Housing and Urban Development Department.

The agency that was created as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty turned 50 on Wednesday.

The Housing and Urban Development Department certainly has had its ups and downs since it was established on Sept. 9, 1965, with the aim of providing safe and affordable housing in sustainable communities across the country. HUD for decades was the “poster child” for waste, fraud and abuse in government, and at times has faced criticism for failing to enforce fair housing laws and ensure that its public housing remained both safe and livable for residents. But the department also allocates billions each year to help sustain and encourage affordable housing (an increasingly rare commodity) and community development projects in this country.

Mayors of both parties especially love the Community Development Block Grant program, which allows them to use federal funds for a wide range of local needs that go beyond just housing. Since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, HUD has played a more significant and crucial role in rebuilding after disasters and finding short- and long-term housing for victims.

In July, HUD announced a new rule that would require more specific reporting from localities and grantees on implementing fair housing, providing them with tools and technology to see where discrimination and segregation still exist in their communities. The goal is to further fair housing by streamlining the process by which communities assess the fair housing landscape in their areas and implement policies to achieve it. But it also signifies that the federal government, through HUD, wants more say in making sure localities aren’t just paying lip service to creating and maintaining fair housing.

President Obama on Sept. 1 sent a letter to HUD extending his “deepest gratitude to the dedicated professionals at HUD who work to lift up their fellow Americans.” Obama called HUD employees “committed public servants” and wished the department “the very best for the years to come.” Tight budgets and the dearth of affordable housing in much of the country means HUD has its work cut out for it post-50.